Virtuous
Author:M.S. Force

My hands are shaking again, and I hate that I’m so nervous. He’s just a man. A man who puts his pants on one leg at a time, as my grandfather would say. On the stairs, my heel catches on one of the rubber treads, and I stave off disaster by grabbing the banister. I strain a muscle in my arm in the effort to keep from pitching down the stairs. That only adds to the remaining aches and pains from my fall in the park this morning.

 

Humbled by the near miss, I stop and take two very deep breaths. Just a man. One leg at a time. Just a man. A person like anyone else. In through the nose, out through the mouth. While I’m standing still, I finish buttoning my red wool coat and pull on my gloves. Holding on to my composure, I go slowly down the remaining stairs and open the door to Flynn Godfrey himself. He’s wearing a black overcoat that he’s left unbuttoned, which is how I can see a crisp white dress shirt that he’s worn without a tie. I briefly home in on that triangle of exposed skin above his top button.

 

In that moment, I realize I expected him to have a driver. Movie stars don’t drive themselves around the city, do they? Apparently this one does.

 

He stares at me for a long moment—long enough that I fear I forgot to wipe the toothpaste from my mouth or worse…

 

“You… You’re stunning.”

 

It’s then I realize he’s staring at me for all the best reasons, and my heart begins to do this weird galloping thing that quickly makes me feel light-headed. He extends his arm, and because I’m prone to disaster today, I take it gratefully.

 

As he helps me down the stone stairs, I notice the shiny black vehicle with tinted windows parked at the curb with hazard lights flashing. My hands go sweaty with nerves. I’m grateful for the gloves and the cold air whipping against my heated cheeks.

 

Flynn opens the passenger door and holds it for me until I’m settled. As I slide into a heated leather seat and breathe in the scent of the most appealing cologne I’ve ever encountered, it occurs to me that no one will know where I am tonight. Leah knows who I’m with but not where I’ll be. She’s working at the bar until two a.m., and she won’t get home until after three—that is, unless she gets a better offer, and then she won’t be home at all. These thoughts begin to make me feel panicky as he gets in next to me and closes the door.

 

“You are lovely,” he says.

 

“Thank you.” I look at him, still not quite believing I’m sitting in a fantastically expensive sports car next to Flynn Godfrey. “Could I ask a favor?”

 

“Of course.”

 

“My roommate was very disappointed that she had to go to work before you picked me up. I wondered if you would mind—”

 

“Where does she work?”

 

I tell him where the bar is, and he considers it before turning his potent gaze on me, seeming troubled. “I hope you understand… I can’t go in there without causing a circus. Perhaps you could ask her to come out to see us?”

 

“Sure. She can do that.”

 

“What now?” he asks, studying me so intently that I feel unsettled and on display.

 

“I… I wondered if it would be all right if we told her where we’re going tonight.”

 

He raises a dark brow. “Are you scared of me?”

 

More like terrified, but I can’t say that. “No, but I only met you this morning, and it would make me more comfortable if someone who cares about me knows where I am.”

 

“I understand.”

 

Despite what he says, I can’t help but wonder if he really does understand what it’s like to be a young woman, new to the city, navigating the many perils. If I’d been speaking to my parents, they would’ve tried to talk me out of coming here. They were afraid of everything, especially things they didn’t know or understand. But I haven’t talked to them in eight years, so they didn’t get a say in my big decision. The second I got the letter of acceptance into the program, I knew there was nothing that would keep me from moving here to make my dreams come true.

 

I pull off my gloves and send a text to Leah, asking her to come outside to meet us. We pull up to the bar a few minutes later, and she is waiting in the cold without a coat on.

 

Flynn puts the passenger side window down, and leans over me without actually touching me, but I’m acutely aware of his nearness.

 

Leah’s hand comes up to cover her mouth when she sees him.

 

I’m grateful she doesn’t actually scream.

 

The words “shut up, shut up, shut up” are muffled by her hand.

 

“Leah, I presume?” Flynn says in the rough, sexy tone that made him a superstar.

 

With her hand still over her mouth, Leah nods.

 

He looks at me. “Is she always so talkative?”

 

That makes me laugh. “Give her a second to recover, and then she won’t shut up.” I look out at her. “Satisfied?”

 

“For now,” Leah says.

 

“Natalie would like you to know where we’ll be tonight. I’m going to use her phone to text the address to you, all right?”

 

“Um, yes,” she says, her voice squeaky. “That’s fine.”

 

“If I don’t come back, I expect you to do something about it,” I add.

 

“I believe she’s concerned I’m going to abscond with her and never bring her home. I have to confess, the thought crossed my mind, but I’m going to save the absconding for our second date.”

 

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